Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Trial....Day 18, March 21st

The Telephones Used In The Bombs

On day 18 the attention of the court has shifted to the telephones that were used to detonate the bombs on the trains. The first 3 witnesses to declare today are the owners of the shop (Bazar Top) where the telephones used in the bombs were bought. These witnesses were detained in the immediate aftermath of the bombings as the police followed the trail of the telephone recovered from the Vallecas bomb, although they were later released. The first to declare was Rakesh Kumar who declared that the person who bought the telephones was a man with slightly separated teeth and not much hair. The witness did not identify this person as being any of those accused. The witness said that this man had told him he wanted the phones for a construction company. The next witness was Suresh Kumar, brother of the previous one. He said that the telephones purchased, of the model Trium 110, were the cheapest and they had plenty in stock. The first day they sold three, then the same person returned the next day for 6 more. On a third occasion the man bought one more phone and a clock. The codes of the telephones sold were registered in the shop, although without the date of sale. The third witness, Vinay Kholi, was the person who organized the liberation of the telephones so that they were not tied to a particular service provider.

The next witness to testify was a Spanish citizen of Syrian descent, Ayman Maussili Kalaji. At the time of the bombings this witness was a serving officer in the national police, although he is now retired. He is also the owner of a company, Test Ayman S.L., which is dedicated to the liberation of mobile telephones for use with different providers. It was this company that carried out the liberation of the phones used as timers in the bombings. On the 4th March 2004, the company liberated 12 telephones for Bazar Top, and 4 more on the 8th March. Following the detention of the owners of Bazar Top, Kalaji voluntarily declared to the police, the following day he stated that he was taken to the police headquarters at Canillas in Madrid for further questioning. The employee responsible for taking the telephones from the shop to be liberated, Washington Mauricio Cuenca, could only testify that he took many telephones; without being able to specify a quantity.

Following the question of the telephones used in the bombs came that of the cards inside these phones. It is alleged by the prosecution that these cards came from the shop run by one of the accused, Jamal Zougam. Two witnesses have testified from the company, Shindu Enterprise, that sold the cards to Zougam’s business. They confirmed that they sold a batch of 100 Amena cards in February 2004 and they have identified Jamal Zougam, as well as his partners Mohamed Bekali and Mohamed Chaoui. According to the testimony, it was Bekali who took delivery of the cards.

The House Where The Bombs Were Prepared

The next witness, Walid al Tarakji al Masri, is the person who arranged the rental of the house in Morata de Tajuña with Serhane ben Abdelmajid (El Tunecino) in 2002. This is the property where it is alleged that the bombs were prepared. The witness said that he knew El Tunecino before the rental operation, having seen him in a mosque. The witness confirmed that the rental of the property became responsibility of Jamal Ahmidam in January 2004, although Ahmidam rented the property using a false name.

On the sale of the telephone cards again, the witness Abdul Khaled Al Jondi told the court that it was El Tunecino who bought telephone cards from him 2 months before the attacks, saying that El Tunecino arrived in the company of another Moroccan man with a pale complexion and a black beard. The witness stated that he already knew El Tunecino before the day of the purchase. He said that El Tunecino told him he was planning to start a telephone shop, and that the person accompanying him was going to be the manager.

The Islamists Under Surveillance

The afternoon session left the organisational details behind the bombings, and focused on the police witnesses who testified on surveillance of some members of the group involved. An inspector from the Madrid Provincial Information Brigade, identified by police number 56589, declared that the property in the Madrid street of Virgen del Coro where some of the accused lived was watched by the police from the end of March 2003 until the arrests made after the bombings. The witness described this address as a meeting place and a centre for indoctrination and display of Islamist videos. The surveillance of the property was not constant during the entire period. The witness stated that the police noted the entrance and exit of persons who passed through the property or who lived there.

However the witness could not guarantee that those charged in the trial participated in the meetings held at Virgen del Coro, attendance could only be deduced from their presence in the building at the time such meetings were held. The witness confirmed that the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah Dabas were both being investigated for their involvement in recruitment of volunteers for the Islamist cause. Both brothers aroused suspicion because they maintained a level of expenditure that did not correspond with their likely incomes. Suspicion increased when it was noted that they travelled frequently to London and made regular telephone calls to that city. The witness said that they knew Moutaz Almallah Dabas had no professional activity in London and that he was in the circle of people around the radical cleric Abu Qutada, linked to Al Qaeda.

The witness said that Mouhannad Almallah Dabas met frequently with Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit at the property, with the frequent attendance of El Tunecino, and that the frequency of visits Almallah Dabas made was beyond that normally expected of someone acting as landlord. The police observed that the calls made by Mouhannad to London were almost always followed by calls to countries in the Middle East or North Africa. This witness also mentioned the hiring of a car to take Almallah Dabas to Ceuta, which was later found in Morrocco with six passports inside. There was also testimony on the relationship of Fadoual el Akil with the group, particularly on a meeting with El Tunecino in February 2004.

The inspector stated that his group received no orders to increase vigilance following the threats made by Osama bin Laden against Spain.

The Leganés Siege

The next police witness to appear was a member of the UCIE group concerned with Islamist activity. This witness testified on the beginning of the police siege of the apartment in Leganés on April 3rd 2004, which terminated with the suicide of the group inside. This officer stated that the police arrived in the area of the apartment because they had been informed that several of the telephone cards they were investigating were active in this area, and they had orders to try and track them. He said that he and 2 other members of his unit arrived in the Leganés street of Carmen Martín Gaite some time after 15:30 p.m. on this day. In the same area were two inspectors and a deputy inspector. The witness said that he believed another unit to be nearby because he saw a car from the police station at Canillas.

Shortly after they arrived, a person identified as the accused Abdelmajid Bouchar emerged from a nearby building with a bag of rubbish which he left on the ground by the rubbish bin. However, Bouchar did not go back into the building, the witness stated that he came past them on the street and then became increasingly nervous and increased his speed. Suddenly he started running and despite being warned to stop by the police he continued running until they lost sight of him. The witness stated that Bouchar ran very fast and went towards the railway station, eventually crossing the tracks. After losing sight of him, the witness returned to the building that Bouchar had fled from, and collected the rubbish bag left behind and put it in the police car so it could be handed over later for forensic examination.

At approximately 16:30 the witness began to hear chants and shouts in Arabic from one of the apartments in the building. He said that he could not be sure whether these were signs of happiness or suffering. Suddenly they heard the sound of a detonation, followed by silence from the apartment. The witness at this point was about 3 metres from the building entrance, and signalled to those residents looking out of their windows that they should go back inside. He said that someone looked out from what he believed to be the apartment where the shouts had come from, saw the witness below and immediately disappeared from sight. The police set about evacuating the building and about an hour or two later the special assault force known as the Geos (Grupo Especial de Operaciones )arrived. At around 20:00 the Geos entered the building, the witness said that there was a lot of confusion. A small explosion was heard, followed by silence then a much bigger explosion which destroyed the apartment and much of the building.

Finally on day 18 came the testimony of the commanding officer of the Geos who entered the building in Leganés, located at number 40 in the street Carmen Martín Gaite. This officer stated that the unit never intended to enter the flat where the 7 suspects were holding out. The objective was to force them out with tear gas and to arrest them. He said he was asked to come as quickly as possible to the building with his unit at approximately 18:00 on the 3rd April. He declared that the deputy director general of the police, Pedro Diaz Pintado, told him that the authors of the train bombings were inside and that they possessed explosives. He also declared that he was told there had been some shots fired from the apartment, and that it was suspected there were between 3 and 5 people inside.

According to this witness, 10 Geos arrived at the building at 19:00 p.m. Another 4 and the witness arrived 15 or 20 minutes later. Whilst they were preparing to intervene, the witness was told about an intercepted telephone conversation from someone inside the flat telling the person on the other end of the call that they were surrounded and would die that night. They tried to obtain plans of the building and discovered that the apartment next to the target one belonged to a police officer. The Geos entered his apartment, and from there they could hear shouting from the adjoining apartment. One option they considered was to destroy the wall connecting the two apartments and enter this way, but they discarded this option because of the likely presence of explosives on the other side. Instead they returned to the landing by the staircase leading up to the target apartment, the witness was present inside the building with his team. Some of the team were on the staircase below and others on the section immediately above. Next, the Geos blew open the door of the apartment and shouted to the occupants that they should give themselves up. The response was the sound of shots being fired, shouts in Arabic and some in Spanish taunting the Geos to enter the apartment. The Geos fired tear gas into the flat and at this point those inside shouted that they were going to send someone outside. The Geos replied that anyone leaving should come out naked and with his hands up. A few seconds later came the explosion, the time was 21:03 p.m. This explosion killed one of the Geos, Francisco Javier Torronteras, the 192nd victim of the train attacks.

Finally the witness was asked by one of the defence lawyers whether he considered the strategy adopted to have been the correct one. The witness replied that he felt satisfied with his decision, as the other options might have put the lives of more people at risk.

Interesting evidence on the police surveillance of some of the accused. There is a growing feeling that more could have been done to avoid or detect the attack, and that the possibility of such an attack was not taken sufficiently seriously. The Leganés siege has been another target for those who claim that the whole operation has been a setup by pro-socialist members of the security forces. It has also provoked some of the most outlandish aspects of the already bizarre conspiracy theories. The response from supporters of these theories to the account given in court has been muted, they have never been able to make much headway in presenting the suicide of the nucleus of the group accused of the bombings as being a fake. The problem they have is that if Leganés is genuine then there is no conspiracy.

El Mundo - Telephone sale witnesses
El Mundo - Liberation of the telephones
El Mundo - Sale of the phone cards
El País - Morning session
El Mundo - Police surveillance
El Mundo - Bouchar escapes
El Mundo - Leganés explosion
El País - Leganés siege

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